Neil deGrasse Tyson Denies Misconduct Accusations
Posted December 1, 2018 9:26 p.m. EST
In a lengthy Facebook post Saturday, well-known astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson disputed accounts that he had behaved inappropriately with three women, a day after the broadcasters of his show “Cosmos” said they were investigating his conduct.
“Accusations can damage a reputation and a marriage,” he wrote. “Sometimes irreversibly. I see myself as loving husband and as a public servant — a scientist and educator who serves at the will of the public.”
On Friday, Fox Broadcasting and National Geographic, which air the popular science program “Cosmos,” said they would investigate the allegations, which were first reported on the website Patheos. On Saturday, the American Museum of Natural History in New York, where Tyson directs the Hayden Planetarium, said it was looking into the accusations as well.
Tyson, 60, remains in his positions with the show and the planetarium. But the women’s accounts show how more than a year after the #MeToo movement swept into the public consciousness, accusations continue to emerge about the behavior of powerful and high-profile men.
The prolific Tyson is something of a rarity in the sciences: a star, familiar to those with no connection to his field. Essentially the public face of the natural history museum, and perhaps astronomy itself, he has been lauded for his skill in explaining scientific concepts in digestible terms. He has appeared as himself on TV shows including “The Simpsons,” “Family Guy” and “The Big Bang Theory,” and in the movie “Zoolander 2.”
In his nearly 1,600-word Facebook post, Tyson addressed each accusation, describing two as benign gestures and suggesting that the third had not occurred.
The most recent came from Ashley Watson, who began as Tyson’s assistant on “Cosmos” in the spring. She said in an interview Saturday that one day, he asked if she would like to come to his home to share a bottle of wine and “unwind for a couple of hours.” Thinking they were going to discuss extending her work on the show, she said, she agreed to come in for one glass.
In his apartment, she said, he told her that “as human beings, we all need release,” and asked if there were any “releases” she needed. Shortly after, she said, she went to leave and he asked to show her what he called a Native American handshake, which involved clasping their hands together and finding the pulse on the other person’s wrist, while looking into each other’s eyes. She broke it off after about 10 seconds, and stood up to leave.
As she was leaving, she said, he told her, “I want you to know that I want to hug you so bad right now, but I know that if I do I’ll just want more.”
The next day, she said, as she was driving Tyson home from work, which was part of her job, he told her, “You say you want to be a producer, but it’s always going to be an uphill battle for you because you’re too distracting.”
The next day, she told a supervisor what had happened, and that she had to quit. The supervisor, a line producer, asked Watson if she wanted to file a complaint, and she said no, she said. After that, the supervisor suggested she tell her co-workers that she was leaving because of a family emergency. She left the show.
In his Facebook post, Tyson described the handshake as one he uses “in appreciation of people with whom I’ve developed new friendships.” He said that at work, Watson freely offered hugs, which he typically rejected, but that on a few occasions, he “clumsily declared, ‘If I hug you I might just want more.'”
“My intent was to express restrained but genuine affection,” he wrote.
He wrote that Watson had come into his office after the night in his apartment and told him she had been “creeped out.” He said he had “apologized profusely” and that she had accepted the apology.
Another woman, Katelyn N. Allers, an associate professor of physics and astronomy at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania, told Patheos about meeting Tyson in 2009 at a party after a gathering of the American Astronomical Society. Allers has a tattoo of the solar system stretching from an arm to her collarbone. She said Tyson was “obsessed” with whether the tattoo included Pluto. “He looked for Pluto, and followed the tattoo into my dress,” she told the website, describing it as “uncomfortable and creepy.”
In his post, Tyson noted that Pluto had been declared no longer a planet just three years earlier, “so whether people include it or not in their tattoos is of great interest to me.” He said he did not know until now that Allers had been uncomfortable. “That was never my intent and I’m deeply sorry to have made her feel that way,” he wrote.
The third woman, Tchiya Amet El Maat, has publicly accused Tyson of raping her in 1984, when they were graduate students at the University of Texas at Austin. She said in an interview Saturday that she had blacked out after Tyson gave her something to drink, and that when she came to, she was naked on his bed. She said that when he saw she had awakened, he started having sex with her, and she passed out again. She said she was blacked out much of the night.
She filed a report with the Austin police in 2014, but according to the police report, her complaint was not investigated because Texas has a 10-year statute of limitation on sexual assault charges.
In his post, Tyson said they had a brief relationship and had been “intimate only a few times, all at her apartment, but the chemistry wasn’t there.” He questioned the timing of the accusation — many years later, “as my visibility-level took another jump” — and he brought up her statements that she could not recall much of the night.
“It is as though a false memory had been implanted, which, because it never actually happened, had to be remembered as an evening she doesn’t remember,” he wrote.
In an email, Tyson said he would not comment beyond what he wrote on Facebook. Following his post, Amet said they had never dated and that she was “in shock.”
“If he is talking about me he is lying!” she wrote in a text message. (Tyson did not name any of the women in his post.) Watson declined to comment on Tyson’s post. Allers did not respond to a message seeking a response; she said earlier that she did not want to speak beyond what she told Patheos. Anne Canty, a spokeswoman for the Museum of Natural History, said Saturday that the museum was “reviewing” the recent allegations. “The museum is not aware of any other allegations and has received no complaints,” she said.
Fox and National Geographic said in a statement that they had “only just become aware of the recent allegations regarding Neil deGrasse Tyson.”
“We take these matters very seriously and we are reviewing the recent reports,” they said.
The third season of “Cosmos” with Tyson as host, a revival of the 1980 Carl Sagan series, is scheduled to air beginning next spring.
Ann Druyan, an executive producer and director of “Cosmos,” recalled that when Watson told her she was leaving the show, she asked why and Watson said it was a family emergency.
“I asked her what kind of family emergency and she just said ‘family emergency’ again,” she said. “She looked at me as if the family emergency was some disgrace or something she didn’t want to talk about. I couldn’t go any further.”
Druyan said that she has known Tyson for many years — her late husband met Tyson when he attended the Bronx High School of Science — and that she considers him a friend.
“I’m sick about this,” Druyan said. “The core of our shows is that it matters what’s true. No matter what, that means we will absolutely follow the evidence where it leads.”